HOW (UN)STABLE IS THE BALKANS NOW?

With the growing threat of a Greater Albania flooding over the borders of Shqiperia, the Albanians' original mountain home, into Kosovo and Presevo-Medvedja-Bujanovac (PMB), is this the beginning or the end of Balkan conflict? Little, for example, is known about the Albanian question in Macedonia outside Skopje. It could even be said that few people know even that there an Albanian question in Macedonia but in fact, up to a quarter of the country could easily go the same way as Kosovo and PMB. 25% of the population of Macedonia is Albanian. The Macedonian Prime Minister, Ljubco Georgievski, went to Belgrade yesterday to support the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia, declaring that his country "is alarmed with the events in the south of Serbia. Tension and crisis could spill over into Macedonia". Mr. Georgievski and Zoran Djindjic, the Yugoslav Prime Minister, made a joint declaration that their countries should "defend themselves, starting with an exchange of information". Both declared themselves against the "Greater Albania" proclaimed by the terrorists in PMB and Kosovo. Last Saturday, the Macedonian army was placed on a state of alert because of movements by armed militiamen, wearing black uniforms. Where the Albanians are getting these smart uniforms and weapons from is a mystery. Surely not from Albania, which hardly has the money to equip its own army. If not from Albania, then from whom? Macedonia is not the only area under pressure apart from PMB and Kosovo. Montenegro has a strong independence movement, although for now it appears that around 50% of the population favours union with Serbia, which also means that 50% does not. The authorities in Podgorica have proposed a Union, rather than a Federation, between Serbia and Montenegro as two separate, sovereign states. Such a measure may reduce tension between the pro-independence police force and the pro-Federalist Army in Montenegro. Sandjak is another potential flashpoint. This runs along the border between Serbia and Montenegro and links Bosnia to Kosovo. It has a majority Slavic Moslem population. If Montenegro chooses its independence, this enclave would also have to decide whether to stay with Serbia, join Montenegro or proclaim independence also. Finally, Voivodina in northern Serbia is the bread-basket of Yugoslavia. These fertile plains boast hundreds upon hundreds of luxurious fields of cereals. Here lives a strong Hungarian majority, one which could be tempted to join the "mother" country to the north, on the verge of joining the European Union. There is already a strong separatist movement in this province. This to speak only of ex-Yugoslavia. If one joins the strong Hungarian minority in Romania to this issue, not to mention the Bulgarian/Turkish/Greek issue or the Greek/Macedonian issue, one gives rise to alarmism. The main point is that alarmism is not necessary because the silent majority of the Balkans inhabitants wish to live in peace and above all, wish to get on with their lives. Turkey and Greece have come too far to flare up into war and Bulgaria certainly has nothing to gain by conflict. Marshal Tito stitched together a country from six provinces and skilfully steered Yugoslavia through difficult times on a path towards prosperity. The leaders who arose after his death put nationalism above Federalism and Marshal Tito's dream flowed away down the Danube. What did not help also was pressures from outside. NATO's mistimed and misguided attack did little to help but at the same time, the sheer hostility, arrogance and misconception of NATO's attack on Yugoslavia may have produced the very effect which they were trying to prevent, by a reaction against the aggressors and intruders : the re-forming of Yugoslavia, not as a Federation but as a Union of Independent States, with those who wish to be in the union proclaiming their support and those do not wish to be members staying outside, our correspondent Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey reports from Lisbon.